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CoParenting After Divorce: A GPS for Healthy Kids
Debra K. Carter
Unhooked Books / Softcover / May 2015
9781936268887 (ISBN-10: 1936268884)
Divorce & Separation / Families and Parenting
reg price: $32.95 our price: $ 31.30 (may be subject to change)
225 pages
Not in Stock, usually ships in 3-6 business days

Using a GPS analogy, Co Parenting After Divorce presents a road map for developing a customized parenting plan either with a parenting coordinator or on your own. Learn what to expect from a parenting coordinator and from the court system, how to track factors important for your child's development, how and when to adjust the plan, and how to handle bumps in the road and avoid common mistakes.

From the Bradenton Harold, November 10, 2014 — A Bradenton psychologist who specializes in getting parents going through a relationship split to shield their children from conflict has taken her expertise to a European nation experiencing a spike of divorces. Last week, Debra Carter was in Rome, teaching 100 court-appointed family advocates and members of the highest court in the Province of Rome how to get battling parents to prevent their breakups from hurting their kids through instability, fear and even domestic violence. Her work may get a new system of working with families of divorce written into Italian law. Read full article at this link .

About the Author:

Debra K. Carter, PhD is a clinical and forensic psychologist, and the co-founder and clinical director of the National Cooperative Parenting Center. She is author of the professional text, Parenting Coordination, along with numerous academic and professional articles. She is a frequent keynote speaker.

Excerpt from Chapter One

Parenting Coordination: The GPS (Guidance for Parenting System) Model

When planning a trip, it’s a good idea to know the destination ahead of time. Where are you going? What route do you want to take? Will it be direct, or do you want to take a scenic byway? Where can you get gas, food, or emergency help along the way?

It’s the same when planning for your child’s future during or after a divorce. The destination is the most important part of planning. Even if you and your ex, or soon-to-be ex spouse, cannot agree on much of anything, you can usually agree on where (and what) you want your child to be.

• “Parker should have a good education.”
• “Pamela should stay healthy.”
• “Parker should be a good citizen.”

Agreeing on what you are interested in for your children takes away the “right” or “wrong” from parenting decisions. It changes how you think about parenting. Focusing on your children – what is best for them, even if it may be hard for you – will help ensure that your children reach their destination of healthy, happy adults.

When you are not sure how to get to a certain place, a GPS is a good tool. Enter in the address where you want to go, and the GPS tells you how to get there, turn by turn. This book will introduce the Guidance for Parenting System, a road map for parents of divorce. The GPS in this case is a Parenting Plan, put in place and monitored by a Parenting Coordinator. Even without a Parenting Coordinator, you can use this book as a resource for parenting after divorce.

What is a Parenting Coordinator?
A Parenting Coordinator is a professional who helps parents map out the plan for their children during and after divorce. The Parenting Coordinator can be a lawyer, mediator, psychologist, social worker, or mental health professional. The Parenting Coordinator has gone through special training and certification by the court.

Parenting coordination can help families and parents in many ways. Some of these are:

• Helping parents shift from romantic partners to parenting partners.
• Teaching parents how to manage negative feelings in a positive way.
• Giving parents and children good communication tools.
• Setting up ways to work out conflicts between parents.
• Keeping to the court-ordered plan.
• Saving legal costs.

The Parenting Coordinator works with parents, for children. The children are the focus.

Let me repeat that: your children are the focus. Not you. Not your ex; as wrong as you feel he is. Not the new step-mother; as wrong as you think she is. Your children are the ones who had no say in the divorce, and who need both parents now more than ever.

In my work as a Parenting Coordinator, I find that this is the most important step in a parenting plan. Parents who can learn to keep the children as the focus can, and do, set up good plans for their children. The kind of plans that get your children to their destinations feeling happy and healthy. It can be done. You can do it.

Keeping the children as the focus in one way is very easy, and in another way, can be quite hard. It is easy, as a parent, to want the best for your children. That is a natural feeling for a parent. But keeping the children as the focus after divorce often means letting go of anger, hurt, and resentment. That is much harder to do.

When my daughter was three years old, she had a terrible fever. Her doctor had given her medicine to take, and told me to bathe her in cool water as needed. The medicine helped a little, but her fever raged on throughout the night. I stayed up all night, bathing her to cool her off, rocking her in my arms, and feeding her ice chips. It was easy then to focus just on her. I would never have thought of putting her in bed and going to sleep myself until she was better.

But in a divorce, there is no medical emergency. You might be hurting so much yourself that it’s hard to think clearly. Now is the time, however, to focus, just as I did on that long night with my daughter. Once a parenting plan is in place, you can relax and follow the plan.

The parenting plan will include you and your ex (or soon-to-be ex), as well as other people important to your children. A grandmother may take care of the children after school, and so is an important part of their lives. An aunt may drive the children to karate lessons. A nephew may coach your son’s soccer team and be a role model. Your ex may have remarried, and a stepmother is now part of the plan. Everyone has their part to play in making sure that your children reach their final destination.

The parenting plan lets you know what to expect. It will change as your children grow up, since what they need today will not be the same as what they need in five years. The plan, like the GPS, takes you turn by turn. And, if you make a wrong turn, you and the parenting coordinator can “recalculate” the plan, just as a GPS figures out a new route after you missed a turn.

Parenting coordination usually happens in three phases. The first is redefining the family. An important fact to know in this process is that all families change – with or without divorce. Children grow up and move out. A grandmother dies. A father gets a new job and the family moves to another town. Change is a normal part of family life. Every family will look different at different times. What happens in divorce is that the family may now have a dad, a step-dad and one mom or a mom, a step-mom, and a dad. This becomes the new “normal”.

To children, normal can come more easily than you think. This is especially true if parents calmly act as if normal really is…normal. I once worked with an eight-year-old girl whose mother had died the year before. Her father had remarried, and the girl was having some problems filling out school forms. The forms had a section with check boxes for “Parents: Married – Single – Divorced – Widowed”. The girl complained that she wanted to mark the form “divorced” rather than “widowed” because divorce was more normal to her. “All my friends have divorced parents. None of them have to check widowed on the form. Why can’t I be like the other kids?”

In this first phase, normalizing divorce is followed by parents setting up the goals for their children. These common interests – health, education, and so on – become the destinations to set in the GPS parenting plan. Parents move from thinking of right and wrong ways of parenting to the best interests of their children.

We need to stop right here, because I know what you are thinking. You and your ex can’t agree on anything. Even simple things become big between you. You think she is inflexible. He thinks you are stubborn. You wonder how I can be so positive about planning for your children. It takes two to plan, after all. How in the world will you be able to not only agree, but work on a plan?

The answer is that you really do agree on some things. The problem is in how you both think about what you want for your children. Think of it like this: most of the time, you have a position about something. “I know what is right for our children” is a position. When you think of it this way, one person is right…and the other person is wrong. But, if you work from the idea that you and your ex share common interests, right and wrong fade into the background.
Common interests are basic ideas of what you both want for your children. Here are some examples:

• We agree that our children should be healthy.
• We agree that our children should obey the law.
• We agree that our children should have a good education.

From these common interests, you can build a plan that leads to the goals that are part of each interest. “We agree that our children should be healthy” becomes “Yearly checkups at the doctor, dentist, and eye doctor” in the parenting plan. I am not saying that it is easy, or a quick fix. You would not be reading this book if it was easy. But it is possible. It is not only possible, but probable, if you keep your children as the focus.

In the second phase of parenting coordination, parents learn skills to set and maintain boundaries…even when provoked. Even when the other parent fails or forgets. Even when the other parent says something hurtful or rude. Boundaries keep small things from becoming huge. They can keep a random remark (“You’re unreliable”) from becoming another battle. Boundaries also keep conflict away from the children. As we will read in the next section, conflict is the most damaging part of any divorce.

Try this: the next time you need to talk about changing plans, such as weekend care, say “I” instead of “you”. Say “I would really like it if you would think about swapping next weekend with me” instead of “You are never flexible”.

This second phase also teaches effective ways to talk with your children. Divorce can lead to bad communication habits between children and parents. Children may be afraid of taking sides, or they may learn to play one parent against another to get what they want. Parents may get in the habit of talking down about their ex to the children. Good communication needs to be in place even when your children make you angry (or sad, or guilty). Children, just like adults, can push our buttons. Learning to stick to good communication keeps everyone on track – you and the children.

The last phase of parenting coordination is maintenance. The plan may need to be “recalculated” due to a missed or wrong turn. Or you may get remarried, changing the way the family looks again. The parenting plan will be tweaked and the destination checked to be sure that you and your children are on track.
Parenting coordination works. A study by Dr. Joan Kelly in 2007 showed that 12 years after using this method, whether it was voluntary or ordered by the court, parents were cooperating and communicating more effectively. Also, fathers were more likely to be active in their children’s lives than fathers who used the family law system of courts and lawyers.

Dr. Robert Emery found similar positive results in his studies of divorced parents who took part in parenting coordination. Compared to families who only went to court, parents who worked with a parenting coordinator discussed problems together more often. The “nonresidential” parent (the parent who had the child for less of the time) participated more in the children’s discipline than parents who did not use a parenting plan. These nonresidential parents were more active in the daily lives of their children, even though the children did not live with them full time. These parents helped with everyday things like helping the children get dressed, make science projects, and shop for birthday cards. They were also more active in special events, school and church functions, sports, holidays, and vacations.

It’s not divorce that hurts children the most. It’s conflict.

Anger and conflict during divorce hurts children both now and later. It can affect how well they do in school and how they relate to friends now. Later in life it can affect how they choose a wife or husband, and whether they can make a marriage last. Conflict during divorce shows up, for example, when parents can’t agree on who gets the children for Thanksgiving. The parents are angry, bitter, or show contempt for each other when talking about the holiday plans in front of the children. Or one parent has stricter rules at home than the other parent, and fights with the other parent about the rules while the children listen. Children who see, hear, and feel this conflict will be hurt. It is not a question of if children will be hurt by conflict in a divorce; it’s how much they will be hurt.

This is not just my idea. Research proves that conflict between parents hurts children. A study by Dr. Brid Featherstone in 2004 showed that conflict between parents is the greatest risk for harm to children – not the divorce itself. Even very young children notice conflict, and will be harmed by it. The problem is, you won’t see the harm right away. It looks like your children are doing OK. But they aren’t fine. The conflict has left scars that may never heal. When I work with parents who don’t want to change, I tell them, “It’s your choice how many scars you will leave on the hearts of your children”.

Another way to think of this is like leaving a car running in the garage. The conflict between you and your ex is like that running car. As long as the car is running, the garage will fill up with poisonous fumes. You can’t see the fumes, but they are there. As long as you leave the car running, your children will breathe the fumes. But if you take the car out of the garage and drive away, the children won’t be near the fumes. You may have to deal with the fumes, but you can deal with the fumes away from the children. Another choice is turn the car off, open the garage door, and air the fumes out of the garage. Either way works. You will protect your children. And that, after all, is your job as a parent.

You may be thinking that a good relationship with you will cancel out any bad feelings your children might notice between you and your ex. Not true. A research study by Dr. Robert Emery showed that good feelings for one parent can help smooth over only some of the conflict between parents. Children will still show negative effects from the hostility between parents. The longer the argument or conflict, the worse the effects are on children. What parents argue about doesn’t matter. Children respond to the feeling of hostility, not what is being said.

A researcher named Whiteside found that the amount of time spent at one parent’s home or the other did not matter much in how children reacted to divorce. Even the “shape” of the caregiving network did not matter much – step-parents, relatives, and co-parents could be almost any mix. The important factors in children adjusting to divorce are the parents’ warmth, sensitivity, discipline style, and how well the parents work together. These factors will make the difference between a child who is well adjusted and a child who is scared, angry, and not doing well at home or at school.

There are a lot of studies about divorce because so many families are affected by divorce. According to David Popenoe, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, 40 to 45% of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. The chance of a divorce in a second or third marriage is even higher. This means that literally millions of children are dealing with divorce in their family. Many children are living with one parent or one parent at a time. The Census Bureau reported that, in 2007, one-quarter of children under the age of 18 were living with a single parent. That same year the census showed that 60 million people were in the “divorced” category on census polls.

As the number of divorces has increased and we learn more about its effect on children, laws about divorce and children have changed. In the past, custody was usually given to the mother. Judges thought that mothers made the best parents for children. Today, custody is judged by the best interests of the child. The parent who might be “at fault” in a divorce will have as much right to custody as the other parent. Some states do not even talk about custody or visitation, but instead use terms like “parenting responsibilities” and “timesharing” in divorce decisions. Instead of custody, there is a resident parent and a nonresident parent. The resident parent has the child overnight more than the other parent.

In this book I will not talk about custody. I will use the term “parenting plan”. This covers not just times when a parent cares for the children in the home, but all the other things that go into parenting: health, school, faith, discipline, home rules, public rules, dress…the list goes on and on. These are just as important as where the child sleeps at night.

Changing the words used in divorce does not change the reality, however. Divorce may be the best thing for parents, but it is hard for children. This is not to say that children have never had to adjust to life with one parent or with one parent at a time. In the early 1900s, one quarter – 25% – of children lost a parent to death before they were 15 years old. Many of these children grew up in a one-parent home.

Divorce, though, is different than losing a parent through death. In a divorce the parents feel not just grief, but may also feel anger, blame, guilt, and regret. No one gets married thinking that the marriage will end in divorce. Many people see divorce as a failure, no matter who or what is to blame. This can lead to angry, confused feelings that get in the way of being a good parent. These feelings can show up unexpectedly and ambush you when you least expect it.

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